By Rudy Blalock
California State Sen. Scott Wiener hosts an event in San Francisco on Oct. 23, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Senate Bill 58 would allow people 21 or older to possess, transport, or transfer some amounts of psychedelic substances including psilocybin, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms,” for individual and “facilitated or supported use.”
A link between the decriminalization of such drugs was said to not increase risks to public health or safety in Colorado, where similar legislation was passed, and such hallucinogens “have great promise in treating mental health and substance use disorders,” including veterans with PTSD, according to a Sept. 8 press release from Mr. Wiener’s office.
“Plant-based psychedelics are non-addictive and show tremendous promise at treating some of the most intractable drivers of our nation’s mental health crisis,” Mr. Wiener said.
While personal use would become legal after Jan. 1, 2025, the use of such drugs by treatment providers will also be allowed after the state’s Health and Human Services Agency recommends a plan for such for the Legislature’s approval, according to an analysis of the bill.
Proponents include the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, a criminal defense nonprofit organization, and the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a non-profit criminal justice reform organization, according to the most recent Senate and Assembly floor analyses of the bill.
“Generations of anecdotal evidence and current clinical research at leading universities including John Hopkins, NYU, and UCLA, point to therapeutic uses for psychedelic drugs in treating complex mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, treatment-resistant depression, and addiction,” the Law Enforcement Action Partnership wrote in support of the bill.
Those opposed argue such studies only refer to patients under supervised attention, not the widespread usage of psychedelics for personal use.
“The key point is that psychedelics have never been proven to be safe for widespread consumption, not even in the studies used by Scott Wiener to push for this bill, and have never been approved by FDA,” the Narcotic Officers Association—a Santa Clarita based nonprofit law enforcement training organization—said in opposition to the bill.
Others opposed include associations representing police and some college campuses. In their opposition, the narcotics association additionally cited Dr. Michael Bogenschutz, who oversees the psychedelic research program at New York University’s Langon Center for Psychedelic Medicine, as being concerned that enthusiasm for the usage of such drugs is “outpacing science,” and legalizing any drug before FDA approval is a “deviation” from the normal process.
“We hope [psychedelics] will represent a major breakthrough, but we really can’t say that is true until we’ve accumulated and analyzed the evidence that is needed to make that determination,” Dr. Bogenschutz said in a February 2023 article in TIME magazine, which was quoted in the bill’s analysis.
In a March press release by the same group, alongside the Deputy District Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, Crime Survivors Inc.—a non-profit victim advocacy organization—and others, those opposed additionally urged a vote against the bill, reminding lawmakers it is identical to one Mr. Wiener proposed last year that was rejected. Last year’s bill failed at the hands of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which recommended providing funding for scientific research on psychedelics before legalization.
Skipping safeguards such as FDA approval, like the San Francisco Board of Supervisors did last year when it passed a resolution decriminalizing psychedelics, or medicinal legalization such as with cannabis before it was legalized for recreational use, has raised red flags for some opposed to the bill.
“I think we can all see what San Francisco is going through. There’s empty retail spaces everywhere, there’s robberies every day, people feel unsafe going on public streets especially in the evenings … If we’re legalizing different types of drugs that is a huge problem,” Frank Lee, vice president of the California Coalition Against Drugs—a statewide organization of law enforcement groups—told The Epoch Times in an interview.
The coalition includes the California District Attorneys, California Narcotic Officers, California College, and University Police Chiefs associations, as well as the Deputy District Attorneys Association of LA, community groups, anti-drug organizations, and others, Mr. Lee said. “California already has too many big drug and crime problems now. Importantly, in Scott Wiener's words, SB58 is the first major step in legalizing all drugs, and we adamantly want to thwart that. The current drug and crime problems in San Francisco and Oakland are good warnings to us,” Mr. Lee additionally said in an email to The Epoch Times.
SafeLaunch, a non-profit youth substance prevention organization, said in their letter of opposition that the bill skips out on safeguards—such as first-responder training, public information and education, and learning from structured use with professionals—and thus poses a risk if approved by the governor. “SB58 recklessly pushes policy before science by authorizing the wholesale legalization of numerous psychedelic drugs that have proven to be both dangerous and unpredictable for human consumption,” they wrote. Its Executive Director Janet Rowse told The Epoch Times the ball is now in Mr. Newsom’s court and urged him to put the health and safety of California’s youth first.
“Just as increasing adult access to products containing THC increased the mental health harms to youth, Senator Wiener’s irresponsible bill SB 58 to increase access to hallucinogens will have a similar consequence. Our elected leaders must put the needs of the vulnerable above their own,” she said in a text message. While the bill has passed both chambers of the Legislature, Ms. Rowse urged the lawmakers, going forward, to “consider the health of their constituents with developing minds as a litmus test for any proposed legislation,” and urged Mr. Newsom to reject the bill. “It is now up to Governor Newsom to show Californians and the country what kind of a leader he is by vetoing SB 58 to protect the mental health of all Californians,” she said.
The bill passed on the Assembly floor 43–15 Sept. 6 and passed the Senate floor 21–14 the following day.
Mr. Newsom now has until Oct. 14 to either sign the bill into law or veto it.